No longer for garden pests, CDs show first sales growth since 2004, with Adele and Taylor Swift leading the way

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      As difficult as this might be to fathom today, there once was a time when CDs were not only a thing, but the music world’s coolest thing. Record stores not only charged $19 dollars for them, but had no shortage of takers willing to line up for not only Nevermind, Use Your Illusion (both volumes), and Blood Sugar Sex Magik, but also everything ever released by Hootie and the Blowfish, Counting Crows, and the Spin Doctors.

      Audiophiles (briefly) loved compact discs for the way they sounded on bookshelf-size Mission 753 speakers—the pops, hisses, and skips of vinyl no longer a distraction. Thieves loved them because they cost a lot, were easy to steal from parked cars, ground-level condos, and detached homes, and could then be immediately traded in for cash at Charlie's on Granville.

      Then came MP3s, Napster, and streaming services. Suddenly no one wanted to pay $20 bucks for something that took up valuable space in a 360-foot Yaletown studio apartment. Which partially explains why Apple Music and Spotify today are king, and CDs are something hung on strings in backyard gardens to keep the crows, rats, and Fred Durst away.

      But that changed a little last year, with CDs experiencing a growth in sales for the first time since 2004.

      For those who hadn’t been born yet, 2004 was when click-wheel iPods were still shiny and new, with no one caring they tapped out at 40 GB of storage. Facebook was newly launched, but was only available to those attending Harvard and looking to find the next frat party. Beyoncé was still best known as a member of Destiny’s Child.

      Flash foward to 2021. According to Billboard—citing stats from MRD Data—nearly 41 million CDs were purchased last year, that representing a 1.1 percent jump from 2020’s 40.16 million units sold.

      Leading the way on the comeback front was Adele, whose 30 sold 890,000 compact discs. Taylor Swift came in second and third with reworked versions of Fearless (263,000 copies moved) and Red (clocking in 237,000).

      If there’s a cloud to this silver lining it’s that, back in the glory days of compact discs (aka the mid-’90s) the above figures would have represented first-day, opening hour sales at Tower, Sam the Record Man, and A&B Sound.

      Continuing on that thread, vinyl outsold compact discs for the first time since MRC started tracking music sales in 1991. And while streaming is now the way that the vast majority of people consume music, vinyl is once again the leading format for album purchases in the U.S. Of all physical albums sold in the U.S. in 2021, 50.4 percent were vinyl copies.

      That means that CDs, despite a small bump in popularity, continue to bring up the rear along with cassette tapes, 8-tracks, wax cylinders, and old-timey player pianos. On the positive side, among those, they remain the most easy to steal. 

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